The DNA of an Auburn, Maine, man was found inside a native Alaska woman after her body was found stabbed and fatally shot in the woman’s bathroom at a college here 29 years ago, a witness said Monday.

Cheryl Duda, a forensic DNA analyst at the Alaska Crime Lab, testified in Fairbanks Superior Court that a DNA sample taken from Steven H. Downs in March 2019 matched DNA found in the vaginal area of Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska. Investigators believe Sergie was killed early on the morning of April 26, 1993, in the bathtub area of the women’s bathroom on the second floor of Bartlett Hall on the campus of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

Steven Downs appears in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn in March 2019 for an extradition hearing. He is on trial for the 1993 murder of an Alaska woman. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

Downs, 47, who is charged with murder and sexual assault, had been a first-year student at the school at that time. He lived in a dorm room on the third floor of Bartlett Hall.

He has denied the charges.

Investigators said Sergie, who had taken a year off as a student there, had been visiting a friend on the second floor of that dorm when her body was discovered. She was last seen alive going to smoke a cigarette.

Downs’ arrest in 2019 occurred after his DNA was linked in 2018 to evidence found at the crime scene through a random hit after Downs’ aunt submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.


Duda said she compared DNA that had been collected at Sergie’s autopsy to Downs’ DNA profile after his DNA was collected by police in Auburn, Maine, in 2019.

His DNA profile matched not only that found inside Sergie, but also matched DNA collected from Sergie’s thigh and the sweatpants she had been wearing that had been found pulled down to her knees when her lifeless body was found in a bathtub by a custodian that afternoon.

Duda said that one in 330 billion people had the same DNA profile that characterize Downs and the person whose DNA was found in the evidence from Sergie’s murder case. Duda said roughly 7 billion people comprise the world’s population.

She said two DNA profiles checked against the DNA found in Sergie’s body did not match. Those DNA profiles belonged to two men the defense has named as alternative suspects in the case.

Defense attorney Jesse James Ian Archer sought to cast doubt on the reliability of the match, pointing to discrepancies in lab reports from 1993 and 1999 in which no semen was initially documented to have been found inside Sergie, then six years later was changed to say semen had been found.

Alaska Crime Lab analyst Cheryl Duda testifies Monday at the murder trial of Steven H. Downs of Auburn, Maine, in Fairbanks Superior Court in Alaska. Screenshot used by permission of Fairbanks Superior Court

Moreover, the type of evidence collection tool that was used to obtain fluids from Sergie’s body was changed over the years in reports, Archer noted in his questioning of Duda.


Asked by Chief Assistant Attorney General Jenna Gruenstein whether Duda stood by the DNA findings of the lab, Duda said she did.

In other testimony Monday, a former student at the school, who had been friends with Downs, said he remembered going hunting with Downs and said the defendant had owned a shotgun and a .22-caliber handgun.

Investigators said Sergie was killed by a .22-caliber bullet to the back of her head.

Oliver Althoen said he believed he had seen Downs with the guns during the summer of 1994, not in 1993, but wasn’t certain.

Downs, a 1992 Edward Little High School graduate, later worked as a licensed registered nurse.

His trial is expected to continue through the week.

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